China is already occupying the area between Finger 2 and 8 in the north bank of Pangong Tso. Under such circumstances, China’s latest provocation will only firm up Indian resolve to get back the lost territories, militarily, if required.
A tense atmosphere has engulfed the city of Leh, the capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh. Mobile network has been suspended in the eastern Ladakh region. The Srinagar-Leh Highway was also closed for civilian movement on Monday. Officials in Srinagar say that a large Indian Army convoy comprising around 300 vehicles has been seen travelling towards eastern Ladakh following the latest clash on the south bank of Pangong Tso lake.
Confusion at Pangong Tso
Like all the other recent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the past few months the latest one too has been riddled with controversies as both sides have accused each other of violating the Line of Actual Control. In fact, this time both sides do not even agree on the exact date of the clash.
Amidst such confusion, local villagers living close to the Pangong Tso lake provide a glimpse of what exactly transpired on the night of 29 and 30 August that has derailed any hope of a diplomatic resolution to the latest border conflict.
“Situation is not normal at the border. We are hearing that clashes have been going on around Black Top mountain in Gurung Hali of Chushul area for some days now. We are hearing that our troops have been injured,” said a resident of Durbuk in eastern Ladakh.
A former legislator from Ladakh said that fresh Chinese aggression was reported from Pangong Tso in the past week. “Locals living in the villages near the lake have informed me that last week Chinese troops came up till the Finger 2 area and provoked the Indian Army,” he said.
Following this incursion, Indian Army launched its own counter-operation and a special operations battalion moved to the southern bank of Pangong Tso and occupied a dormant Height near Thakung on 30th August 2020. The Indian Army claims that the Height can give strategic advantage to the side which holds it for controlling the southern bank of the lake and areas around it.
From the details shared by the locals, it is clear the Chinese side tried to further encroach into Indian territory and occupy the Finger 2 area too which was not under dispute till now. The Indian troops have always had their border outpost at Finger 2 area and the People’s Liberation Army’s attempt to occupy the outpost shows that all the talks that have taken place between the two countries have been futile.
Army – Government Divide
This has also created a divide between the Indian Army and the Modi government. While the Army is now convinced that China does not intend to restore the April status quo, the Modi government still favours exploring diplomatic options to resolve the dispute. The divide was clear on the day when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar emphasised on both countries reaching an agreement soon for the peaceful conduct of bilateral relations, while Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat said that military options are on the table if diplomatic talks do not yield any result.
Around 1000 sq. km of Indian territory still lies under Chinese control that they have occupied in May this year. As per information available till now China is occupying the area between Finger 2 and 8 in the north bank of Pangong Tso, around 900 sq. Km of Indian territory in the Depsang Plains, 20 sq. Km in Galwan Valley, 12 sq. Km in Hot Springs area and 20 sq. Km of land in the Chusul sector.
The standoff at the China border continues even after several rounds of diplomatic and military level talks. Under such circumstances, China’s latest provocation will only firm up Indian resolve to get back the lost territories, militarily, if required.